For the millions of progressives who abandoned Al Gore in 2000 and either stayed at home or voted for Ralph Nader, what has the prospective Democratic nominee, John Kerry, got to offer?

            By now the answers are on the record. Kerry wants more troops in Iraq, and he wants austerity at home. By announcing April 9 that as president he would make deficit-reduction his prime task in managing the economy, Kerry as good as stated that he has no plans to combat America's greatest domestic problem: the lack of jobs, currently advertised in the notorious "jobless recovery." So what's left for the progressives to vote for?

            In the current recovery, the growth in gross domestic product (GDP) has been 3.4 percent, which is healthy. But employment growth has been a negative 0.1 percent. The March job numbers were good, but we are still down 600,000 jobs from the trough of the cycle in the fourth quarter of 2001 (130.9 million in 2001.4 to 130.3 million now). More than two years into the recovery from the 2001 recession, the U.S. economy has not produced any net increase in jobs, which, as Professor Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts points out, is the first time since 1949 that this normal pattern of job growth in a recovery has not occurred.

            Is the culprit the notorious "outsourcing," with telemarketers in Bombay and other Indian cities doing jobs once held here by Americans? Pollin says the available evidence suggests that the pace of outsourcing since the beginning of the recovery in November 2001 has not grown at a rate to make it "the only, or even necessarily the primary, factor behind the jobless recovery."

            Technology is producing greater productivity, meaning companies here need fewer workers to produce the same number of goods. But there's a darker side to this productivity picture and one that confronts directly the current battle over overtime. Big chains like Walmart are getting their workers to put in longer shifts without overtime pay.

            Simultaneously, the crisis in states' budgets has led to terrible job loss in health and education programs. Pollin says that in fiscal 2002, 17 states cut health care programs, 10 cut income support or employment support programs, and 17 cut other social service programs. Conditions deteriorated further in fiscal year 2003, with 14 states cutting spending on secondary education, and 20 states cutting budgets for college and universities.

            Kerry has no plans to confront this crisis. His only bet is on deficit reduction providing a decisive boost to the economy, and there's nothing to back up that theory, beyond the self-esteem of Rubin and Kerry's economic team of ex-Clintonites. The usual answer is "a liberal nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court" and the defense of Choice. As so often before, it's the Democrats' only substantive plank and one that many in the electorate despise. As regards his posture on nominees, Kerry voted for Scalia, the most right-wing justice on the highest bench in many decades.

            While Kerry sends out his war-whoops, Nader has now got the message that since Howard Dean was run off the lot by the Democratic Party there's been no convincing peace candidate putting out the message of bring the troops home now (though even here Nader, with inexplicable caution, says "in six months"). So Nader may peel away some vital votes from Kerry on the war issue, while millions more listen to Kerry talk about the deficit and how he's not a "redistributionist," meaning he's got the economic platform of an old-line Republican.

            All the while, amid a hail of bad press for the White House surrounding Woodward's book launch and the bad news from Iraq, Bush is pulling ahead in the polls. Can it be true that the Democrats have managed to find a worthy successor to Mondale and Dukakis as their champion? It's early days yet, but it's beginning to look that way.

            Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2004 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.